Interview with Dee Snider (Twisted Sister)

You have recently released Live at the Astoria CD/DVD. You must be pleased with the reviews that are coming in?

Yeah, I’ve just been reading a whole series of reviews that have been sent to me and they’re pretty amazing across the board. I’m very pleased with the reaction.

This is different to your first live DVD, Live at Wacken, which saw you playing in front of a festival crowd. This is you, up close and right in the faces of the crowd. Is this the sort of live setting that you thrive in?

The festivals have a grandiosity and pomposity to them which I love. I love the larger than life nature of those shows with the lights and the production and all that stuff in front of 40 or 50,000 people. There is however the distance from the audience and the intimacy is lost. This show at The Astoria was one during a series of festival shows and it was one of a kind really in the sense that we don’t do these smaller club shows anymore. It brought everything up close and personal and we loved that. We thrive on being five foot away from the edge of the stage looking into the faces of the audience.

You’ve gone on record as saying that this was one of your best shows of your entire career and you can see from the DVD that you are all totally fired up. Why did everything slip into place on the night this was recorded or was it just one of those magical moments where it all went right?

It was just one of those nights where the stars aligned. Certainly the special nature of the night for us was through our return to the UK and the connection that we have to that audience and certainly the connection that the audience has with us inspired greatness from us that night. We’re very, very critical about our own performances and nobody worth their salt thinks that they are as good as people say they are and we always strive to be better. I’d say that in 9 shows out of 10 someone always comes off stage complaining that something wasn’t right about something. I’m rarely impressed with myself. After this show I came off stage saying that it was a great show and I realised that everyone else was saying the same thing.

It’s just as well you had the cameras and recording equipment there as it would’ve been a bummer to have missed that. Who decided to record the show and why was the Astoria chosen?

Originally the show was being filmed as the record company wanted to do a pay per view special and they were filming for that. When the pay per view thing never happened we wondered what happened to the footage and we got it last year and watched and we thought “Wow!!” It was as good as we thought it was and they managed to capture a lot of what was going on as it’s always really tough to capture and define on film a live situation. They did a pretty good job.

Are you not put off by the presence of the cameras or is it a case of once you’ve started the show you don’t notice them there?

I don’t find them off putting so long as they stay out of my way. It was actually a shame that there weren’t more cameras on stage to capture more of the action but having said that they would probably have got in the way and become a distraction so I think it worked out just fine as it was.

There was also talk of a DVD from the Bang Your Head Festival coming out last year. What’s happened to that?

That’s actually an intentional fraud case that’s going on right now. When we unravelled it, it was pretty amazing. We had nothing to do with it and we knew nothing about it and it went on without our knowledge. The distributors of the Astoria show called and said “What the hell’s happening here, releasing another live DVD at the same time as the Astoria show?”. We didn’t know anything about it so they send us a link to the press release and when we contacted the company putting this out they said that I and someone else I’d never heard of had made a deal for this DVD. I have never made any such deal and we got the contracts and it was clear to see that someone had taken my “band” signature and put it onto the contract in a couple of key places. They actually used the same signature twice and as you know when you sign your own name they never look exactly the same. I also date my signature and use my legal name to sign documents not my “band” name. Somebody had tried to con us and we got an injunction and stopped the release. We didn’t want this to come out as we were being ripped off. Somebody had taken a lot of money and had used my name illegally and we had the Astoria DVD coming out so there was a conflict there. I asked the label who were going to put it out, who are a reputable label who’ve been around a long time. I asked them didn’t they think it was odd that they never spoke to anyone in our organisation directly. Why didn’t they pick up the phone to speak to us or ask us to do some liner notes or something. So this DVD is not coming out and I don’t know if it ever will.

The Astoria show is actually your second DVD in the space of a year. In 2007 you released A Twisted Christmas, your very own Twisted Sister Christmas album. Who came up with the idea for that?

I had given my notice to the band that I was leaving. That was nothing to do with the guys. We were getting on great and having a great time. This was a reunion show and reunions are supposed to have a beginning and end. I think Gene Simmons has a different thought on that, he thinks that a reunion goes on and on and slowly each member slips away and is replaced by a look-a-like !! I said to the guys that we’d have one more year and then call it a day. Jay asked what I thought of doing a Christmas album as I didn’t really want to do any new material. I immediately said “Yes!” and he looked at me and said “Seriously?” I said that 25 years ago I remembered one Christmas being abused by some Disco/Pop Christmas album. I ended up banging my head against the wall asking myself why do I have to suffer Jazz Christmas, Classical Christmas, Folk Christmas and Disco Christmas, where’s the Metal? I thought at the time that it’d be cool to do a Metal Christmas album for the Metal fans with Motorhead, Lizzy, Priest and all those but the holidays were soon over and we got back on the road and I completely forgot about it. When Jay mentioned about doing a Christmas album it reminded me of that young, angry Rocker and I thought I’d trust that 25 year old rather than this 50 year old and go with what I thought was a cool thing back then. Everybody and their mother has since then told us it’d be the death of our career and the end of the band and I’m thinking “What career?” We’ve just had a reunion and were about to call it a day so we went in with the right attitude and wanted to have fun with it. I can’t speak for the rest of the world but in the U.S it’s actually revived our career and kept us together longer. For those people who said we should never have done a Christmas album and we’ve compromised our integrity then it’s because of that album that we’re still together.

On paper, Twisted Sister doing a Christmas album sounds mad BUT it really worked and it was a big seller for you. Why do you think that your Christmas album was a great success when so many others have failed?

I think it was two things. One it was the attitude. We went in and didn’t take it too seriously but didn’t take it as a joke either. We were serious with what we were doing but we recognised that we needed inherent humour. If you asked me 30 years ago if Twisted Sister would make a Christmas album I’d have punched you in the face. The other thing was Mark Mendoza’s approach as a producer. He said he wasn’t going to approach this as Christmas music; he wanted the music to be recorded as old school Metal. If you listen without the vocals you wouldn’t be able to tell if it was a Metal record or what. It is a great Metal album itself. Mark has his own internet Metal radio show called Animaltastic and if you go to our website there’s a link there and you can check it out. He would go on the air and he’d play the tracks without the vocal and people would ring up and ask who it was. You just couldn’t tell it was a Christmas song without the vocals. That was his goal and I think that’s one of the reasons why it works.

How many Christmas shows were you doing or was that just a one off?

Every year we’ve done a few Christmas shows but this year we took it to the next level. We did two shows on Broadway. We hired a Broadway set designer to create a Heavy Metal Santa’s workshop. It was very elaborate and we wanted to create an experience for everyone. We also had Lita Ford come out, we had Mick Foley as Santa and my entrance was in a custom built sleigh with a hot rod engine and flame paint job and it was pulled by Mini Kiss. It was an exciting Christmas show.
Can you see this becoming like the Trans-Siberian Orchestra doing annual Christmas shows?

This is fun. It’s an alternative to the other Holiday choices and why shouldn’t Rock fans have something like this. It’s really taken on a life of itself and to that end, I’ve written a musical based on the Christmas album and the musical is about a fictitious band and their struggle to find fame and fortune but they find the magic of Christmas instead. The music from the show mostly from the Christmas album, select Christmas songs famous and not so famous and we are now writing for the first time in I don’t know how many years new Twisted Sister music for release at the end of 2009 which is going to be a companion piece to the Christmas album. That music and the existing material will go together to make A Twisted Christmas-The Musical. This music will be the other side of this band’s struggle and is really heavy stuff, in fact some of the heaviest and depressing stuff I’ve ever written. One is called “Another Christmas in Hell”. A lot of the music is going to be this oppressive style showing the dark side of Christmas as opposed to the traditional white side on the Christmas album

You’ve mentioned about retiring Twisted Sister or scaling back on the number of shows you do. Is this still your plan?

It’s really what we’ve been doing in the UK. We did a run of dates with Alice Cooper a couple of years back. We always enjoy doing select dates. The shows with Alice were a one off and we haven’t done anything since or before but it was a great chance to play with Alice. At one show I got up on stage and sang “Under My Wheels” and that was the dream of a lifetime. We just do 15, 20, 25 shows a year, mainly at festivals and for now we’ll continue on in that fashion. There’s some guys like Lemmy, I love that guy, who’ll end when he dies and I remember a great quote saying that death is nature’s way of telling us to slow down. I thought that was brilliant, it was so Lemmy. I’m not one of those guys. I don’t want to get to the point where I’m disappointing the fans whether it’s physically, vocally or performance-wise and I’m happy to say that I don’t think I’ve reached that point yet but I really don’t want to push it to the point where it is disappointing. I don’t want fans saying how great it used to be. That to me will make my heart break on that day as I have an obligation to the fans to keep that memory of high energy, exciting performances alive. It keeps things exciting for us too. It takes me back to being at High School where you’d have a concert once a month and you’d look forward to it coming and would be counting the days. I don’t want to end up like Bon Jovi on “Wanted Dead or Alive” and crying in the dressing room. It becomes a job that you have to do, there’s crew, ticket sellers and all sorts and you can’t walk away. There were times during our heyday when I had no voice left and nobody left but I still had to get out there and do it. Now we love doing this, we’re happy to see each other and we’re not together all the time to get on each other’s nerves and it’s just great like this.

I saw your show in Newcastle on that tour. I’m just glad that I wasn’t one of the ones arriving late when you were on stage!

Ha, yes!. You heard some of my stellar audience repartee. That was great. I was so pissed off . Doing those Alice Cooper shows I’d forgotten about the people who are there only to see the headliner. They get the best tickets then don’t show up until the headliner is due on. It hasn’t happened for decades but seeing the first 10 rows empty and I was incredibly insulted and incredibly angry when I saw this during the first song. I told the audience that when the people who weren’t there, when they came into the theatre I wanted them to all imagine that they were fellating me..ha!! When they came in I was going to say “Hey, how ‘re you doing?” and everyone else would imagine them performing oral sex on me !! So when the people walked in the crowd were roaring with laughter and these people were looking around thinking “what’s going on?” It became this entertaining part of the show.

You’ve all got outside interests beyond Twisted Sister. Jay Jay has his management company and you’ve had a number of projects including your own radio show, a reality TV show (Meet The Sniders) and the film Strangeland, which you wrote, directed and starred in as well as other musical ventures such as Van Helsing’s Curse and Widowmaker so you’ve had a lot to keep you busy. What are your main focuses outside of Twisted Sister at the moment?

Fortunately, my New Year’s resolution was to make a list and I have them scattered all over the place. I have about 15 different projects on the go like Van Helsing’s Curse and I have a couple of radio shows that I do in The States. One of them is a Metal show that’s been going for about 12 years and the other is a horror radio show which is a talk radio show about the world of horror. I’m working on the new musical Twisted Christmas that we talked about before and Strangeland-Disciple is finally heading into production this year which is great. I do charity work too. I’m the national spokesperson for Bikers for Babies and travel around raising money for premature babies and for those with birth defects. I’m writing a screenplay and I’m also thinking of doing an outside side project with a whole bunch of other musicians. I’m so busy which is another reason why I can’t go back out onto the road and be a 24/7 Rocker. I’ve got a lot of other interests that satisfy me creatively so I don’t feel the need to get up there on stage and constantly have an audience remind me how wonderful I am which is the whole reason I did it in the first place.

Would you like to get more involved in the business side of things like Jay Jay or do you prefer the more creative side of the entertainment industry?

I have four kids and my three sons have a lot of creativity through acting, film making and singing and I’ve got a production called the Spiders of Mass Production which is designed to give them the leg up that I never had. I do see myself on the business side but it’s more of a family focussed thing to help them develop their creative projects. Outside of that I’m doing more of the creative side than business side.

Over the years Twisted Sister have made a big impact in the industry and you often pop up on soundtracks to films. “I Wanna Rock” has appeared in the likes of Roadtrip, The Rocker and even Sponge Bob Square Pants has done his own version. Does this surprise you that even after all these years your songs are still as popular as ever?

Yeah, I often jokingly say that you’re more likely to hear our music on a commercial or on a movie or TV show than you are to hear it on the radio or on a video music channel. I’ve been blessed to have written a couple of songs like “I Wanna Rock” that have taken on a life of their own and have become almost traditional tunes at this point. “We’re Not Gonna Take It” shows up at sporting events and political rallies and it even features on an advert for women’s premenopausal medication with all these 40-50 year old women in high waisted pants. Someone said to me “Dee, how can you sell your art to THAT?” and I said “that medication stops vaginal dryness” and I ask you Mick, who is not against vaginal dryness? So you could say that Twisted Sister is socially conscious. I’m actually amazed and proud that people are still interested in something I did 20 or 30 years ago, I think that’s kind of cool. I don’t see it as selling out at all.

Back in the 80’s you had a famous spat with Tipper Gore and the PMRC over censorship and I think you stunned them with an eloquent argument. Have you thought about entering into politics?

You know, I get asked that a lot. Spin magazine have just done a magazine article of 25 years after all that happened. And when there was that whole maelstrom of attention. To answer your question though, no, I’d never want to go into politics because if there’s one thing that I’ve learned is that politics is a dirty job. It’s not a question of being against the political system or not being a patriot, but it’s a recognition that it takes a certain type of person to do a certain type of job and they couldn’t get up on stage and tear it up and I would drown in politics. Bill Clinton was the perfect machine for that. He had a brilliant mind but he was slicker than shit. They called him the Teflon President as they couldn’t stick anything on him and he did great things. That’s what you need, someone who can work within the system and if you’re too fair minded or too reasonable then you’re going to get killed.

At the moment you are signed to a label based in Newcastle in the UK. How does a New York based band end up being signed by a label based in the North of England?

Demolition Records are incredible supporters of Metal in all of its forms. Those guys started as fans in Twisted’s audience and they can cite the shows that they were at. They were at a festival where we debuted with Motorhead and that was a pretty legendary date for us. They just get it, they support us and believe in us. In the world there’s Demolition in the UK, SPV in Germany and Roadrunner in The States and some others and labels like that really keep Metal alive. There’s not many of them so if you want to do this your choices are limited but you also want to do it with someone who believes in you and gets it. We’ve been on majors and they’ve shown their hand before. The minute it gets a little tough they can’t be bothered to put any extra effort into something. With Demolition, these are guys that get it, they get the music and they love it and don’t mind getting a bit dirty if that’s what it takes. They’re fans first and foremost, they know what they’re doing and they’re not pretenders, they’re not bandwagon jumpers. They are more like “this is what we do, this is what we know and this is what we love” sort of attitude. Maybe they’re not going to be hugely wealthy or become internationally known but they like going to work every day and love what they do. They are great guys.

Newcastle, of course is the home of The Tube, a UK music show that featured live music in the 80’s. Do you think your appearance on that show helped to break you in the UK?

Without a doubt, that appearance on The Tube pulled us out of the fire. Just before we went over to the UK to appear on The Tube we were about to call it a day. We’d lost our deal with Secret Records, and all our options seemed to be drying up . At that point we’d been together for 6 or 7 years and we’d not been able to break out of the regional success we’d had back home. We got over to the UK and gave it everything we had and with the help of Lemmy Kilmister and Brian Robertson and a can of make up remover we lit a fire under the collective asses of the Metal community and we opened people’s eyes. After that show we had 3 record contracts offered to us. It was pretty monumental. About 5 or 6 years later I returned to the Tube for some reason and went into The Green Room and on the wall was this huge blown up picture of Twisted Sister with Lemmy and Brian Robertson in the last moments of “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll But I Like It”. So even the Producers of The Tube recognised that something extraordinary had occurred and it launched our career.

There’s a distinct lack of shows like that now. At one time the UK had The Old Grey Whistle Test and I think in the States it was American Bandstand and Don Kirshner’s show but now it’s Pop Idol and video shows. Do you think that this is harming the music industry and preventing the development of new talent?

It just doesn’t exist and it doesn’t exist here either. Even back then when we did The Tube we were told that we were going to get to do 3 songs live and that meant playing them live and it being broadcast over the airwaves live. We were like “Wow!” That was unheard of in The States and it was an incredible opportunity to reach people and see a real cause and effect. There was an action and a reaction, you didn’t have to wait for it to air in a week. You hit the chords and it hit the people right away and they responded. It was career changing for us on all levels.

At some point this year you will perform your 9000th show as a band. That’s an incredible feat. Do you know when this is likely to be?

Jay Jay’s the legendary keeper of the records. He has kept a journal and he tells us this and it’s pretty mind numbing to think of it that way but at the same time I feel great. Did everything go the way that I planned? No! At the end of the day I’m a pretty damned lucky guy and have been very fortunate in a lot of ways. I think the fall from grace of Twisted a few years back was life saving for me. I think that as a personality I was getting too crazy within myself. I was becoming too controlling and full of myself and egocentric. My personal life was falling apart so when the band split it got me back down to earth and got me to realise the things that I have. I am still with the same woman 33 years later and now I have four kids rather than just one. I also have a career based on me as a person and I don’t think any of that would have happened if the band had continued on the course it was on. I would have ended up being one of those nuts who plays in front of a huge amount of people but who’s still very much alone in the world sitting at home sucking their thumb and is just a mess. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved with Twisted Sister especially in Europe where the fans have been so great with us. When we started we were 3rd or 4th on festival bills now when we go back we are headlining. The running joke is that if we go away for another 20 years when we come back we’ll be playing football stadiums. The less we play the bigger we get!!

What number are you up to at the moment?

I don’t actually know when that will be or what is going to happen as we play so infrequently now. Back in the day we’d play 300 shows a year but now it’s only 15 or 20 a year so it might take a while to get there.

One final question, what are your plans for 2009?

This year there’ll be a special edition of the Stay Hungry album as it’s the 25th anniversary of it’s release. It’ll have all sorts of extras and a new song called “30” We’re going to be doing a few Stay Hungry shows where we’ll be playing the album in its entirety. Our plan is to make this the last year for the makeup and costumes. In 2010 it’ll be a stripped down Twisted the way God intended.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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